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The best record stores in California are a dream for vinylheads. California, arguably the cool kid of the West Coast music scene, has an impressive haul of places to shop for records. In a culture dominated by virtual music on streaming services like Spotify, the rising popularity of vinyl records seems counterintuitive.
Overrun by new technology (the cassette and the Compact Disc) and consumer demand for the ability to pause, rewind, fast forward, play or stop at the touch of a button, vinyl records saw a steady decline in sales. Once Sony’s Walkman and Apple’s iPod enabled musical portability, only audiophiles and loyal collectors kept vinyl sales alive.
These increasingly compact music files allow for greater flexibility, and they reflect an American ideal: individualism. Technology now caters to personal soundscapes with individually curated playlists on iPhones connected to earbuds or headphones. Older tech like radios and turntables have less malleability in terms of what you listen to and who hears it. From an era of concept albums (think Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” or Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”), immediate gratification and the single-track mentality paved a new way away from the vinyl tradition.
2017 saw the highest sales of vinyl records since 1991, and their popularity continues to rise. Vintage aesthetics have become hip again, especially with millennials and Gen Z, partially due to the questionable ethics of fast fashion and the expressive limitations of the mainstream. Perhaps we need a break from monotonous machine-made uniformity and a return to beautiful imperfections that only hand craftsmanship can deliver. Vinyl records embody that mindset.
Not only do they sit within a trend, but their analog audio quality surpasses that of compressed digital formats that iTunes and Spotify use. So where can you buy musical memorabilia in California? We suggest you support some of the best record stores in California listed here in lieu of a corporation just hopping on the vinyl trend.
Amoeba Music – Los Angeles
Touted as the world’s largest independent record store, Amoeba Music has two enormous stories teeming with records. Once housed in the 1990 Berkeley location, Amoeba has found a new home in Hollywood. Smaller stores might not have your obscure favorites, but you can bet that this LA store will. Dedicate a post-brunch Sunday to scour these limitless stacks for some study session jams. They also carry movies on VHS for movie buffs missing Friday night trips to their local Blockbuster.
Tower District Records – Fresno
Rock takes over as Tower District Records’ main genre, but you’ll also find R&B, jazz, folk, blues and elusive LPs. The owner is a longtime collector, so check out his recommendations to find some gems. Tower District Records also has a selection of turntables, receivers and speakers if you’re in need of equipment.
Armadillo Music – Davis
If you’ve ever found yourself rifling through the Goodwill bins for cute castoff clothes, be prepared for a similar experience when visiting Armadillo Music. Open since the 90s, Armadillo has bins of records that offer everything from punk and rock to classical and jazz (their website slogan reads “from Bach to rock’”). It’s a classic buy-sell-trade location. Sign up for the frequent buyer club to get stellar deals on records.
The Record Parlour – Hollywood
Come explore this massive selection of vintage records in the heart of Hollywood. The Record Parlour refers to themselves as a “mecca of pre-digital entertainment,” and houses over 15,000 records, cassettes, rare jukeboxes, restored audio equipment, music memorabilia and other miscellaneous items like magazines and cameras. You can even rent out the space for a jukebox party.
The Last Record Store – Santa Rosa
This 1980s store is still going strong in 2021. Inspired by the wealth of record stores in Santa Cruz, Doug Jayne filled the need for a record store in Santa Rosa with The Last Record Store. If you pay this Santa Rosa jewel a visit you have to run your fingers through the dollar bin, as it never fails to produce a timeless artist’s forgotten sons.
Vinyl Junkies Record Shack – San Diego
The Digger’s Den is worth a visit to this tiny South Park store. It’s filled with cheap music categorized only by genre. You’ll be surprised by what you can discover just flipping through the records. Come early to snag the best catches of the day, especially if you’re in search of a popular artist’s album. Phoebe Bridgers will inevitably evade your collection if you aren’t the first to hit the stacks. Check out Vinyl Junkies’ fun alt merch and be sure to bring along your old CDs, cassettes, turntables and records to sell.
Permanent Records – Los Angeles
We can’t mention Permanent Records without paying homage to an Echo Park staple. RIP to Origami Vinyl, whose immaculate organization defied the traditional style of dumpster diving for music. Corporate retailers like Amazon and Urban Outfitters ran it out of business in 2016, but Permanent Records is a formidable replacement. Though temporarily closed due to the pandemic, be sure to check their Instagram @PermanentRecordsLA for up to date online listings.
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